Ernie Button has been fascinated by photography since he was in single digits. As a child, he went halfers on a camera with his brother and has been snapping pictures ever since. A speciality of Ernie's is making something magical out of something pretty ordinary. His Cerealism project reimagines landscapes that have been created with, you guessed it, breakfast cereals. Back and Forth, one of Ernie's personal favourites, is a collection of images of the coin-operated rides that could be found at the front of supermarkets that began to disappear around the same time as the economic collapse. Portraits in Plastic, one of his earliest endeavours, saw Ernie photograph his childhood toys, inspired by photographer David Levinthal. What could be considered mundane by most people can work as a fascinating starting point for Ernie.

Inspiration for Vanishing Spirits struck Ernie one night two years ago. He had been working on a project for a friend of his in which he would take close-up images of agates to try and enlarge "tiny landscapes" of the rocks. Not long after completing this project, Ernie enjoyed a dram one evening. Upon finishing, he held his empty glass up to the light and was taken aback when he realised he could see repetitive patterns at the bottom of the glass.

"I had just spent a year photographing these close-up landscapes and objects. I knew I could do something with it," said Ernie. "How far I would go I had no idea, but I immediately took it into my studio and started creating images."

These images were taken on a medium-format film camera so Ernie had to wait a couple of weeks for his film to be developed and the results returned to him. In truth, he wasn't sure what to expect. However, once Ernie received the final images, he knew that there was something there.

"Then the next question was, could I repeat this? Could I make these lines happen again? And lo and behold, I could, and I was off to the races experimenting," said Ernie.

The variation between the images in the collection was really quite spectacular. Ernie found that the type of glass that the whisky was in, the region the whisky was from, and the type of cask the whisky matured in could have a huge impact on the final result. It is, perhaps, unsurprising that this is the case, as every dram you try tastes so different.

What draws the collection together is the circular shape of each of the photos which transforms the celestial-looking images into something that you would expect to see in outer space. While Ernie tends to avoid manipulating his images, he realised that altering the shape of the photos into circles added something truly special to the project.

"What I've always appreciated about art is we all bring our own individual thoughts and ideas and what's affecting us at the moment, and we imprint it upon the art," Ernie said. "Some people might be seeing something really planetary or undersea-like and that's okay. If the art is engaging you and is provoking an emotion or a thought, that's a good thing."

Ernie, who is based in Arizona, fell in love with whisky through his wife. She came from a whisky-drinking family and was the one to introduce Ernie to the drink that would become the focus of his biggest project to date. Each whisky that is featured in the project is from a bottle that Ernie and his wife have shared and enjoyed together.

Even though Ernie's phenomenal book is out in the world, his project is far from over. He is still keen to photograph any new whiskies that he tries. His enjoyment of drinking whisky has doubled. He now describes sitting down with a dram as "'drinks and a show' because I'm going to see that show at the end but I'm going to enjoy the process as well." He has his eye on a bottle of The Balvenie 27 Year Old - A Rare Discovery on Distant Shores for his next dram. Having enjoyed a rum cask finish, Ernie is keen to see the kind of impact this would have on the dried remains.

Whisky and art are pretty similar when it comes down to it. Everything is subjective - a smoky dram might remind one person of a bonfire with friends and another of a pipe their grandfather smoked. One of Ernie's photos may appear as an underwater scene to one person and a rocky terrain to someone else. There are no right or wrong answers - the important part is what you take from the experience.


The original feature is from the Summer 2023 edition of Whiskeria, delivered to the door of W Club subscribers and also free with any Whisky Shop purchase in-store or online.